Understanding “Whosoever.”

I just read an article I found in my inbox from Faith Gateway Today. The article was an excerpt from a book by Pastor Kyle Idleman titled Not a Fan, published by Zondervan. Though I would agree with the basic premise of the article that Jesus does not merely call sinners to “believe” on him but to follow him, I found that the article illustrated much of what is wrong with modern biblical “interpretation.”

Arguing that “anyone means everyone” this young man began by stating what he perceived to be the meaning of John 3:16 and freely read into the text ideas that John never intended.  Concerning that verse he wrote, “In that one verse we read that God loves us, Jesus died for us, and that we can have eternal life through Him.” This has been assumed to be true for so long that anyone who questions it is perceived to be a heretic, but is that what John was really teaching?

One of the principles of interpretation that is regularly ignored in our day is that we must seek to understand the questions the biblical writers were answering and not assume they were concerned to answer our questions. Just yesterday, I read a passage in Acts 26 in which Paul was making his defense before King Agrippa. This is how he began his defense– “I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews. . .” (Acts 26:2-3).  Paul was happy to give answers because Agrippa understood the questions. Too often we are mistaken about the meaning of biblical passages because we fail to take into account the questions they were intended to answer.

Do you think John [or Jesus, assuming his conversation with Nicodemus extended this far in the text] intended this beloved verse to teach the universality of God’s love in the sense that he loves every individual on earth equally and in the same way? Do you think he was concerned with the question of the extent of Jesus’ redemptive work? Was he really teaching us that Jesus died for every sinner whether he will believe the gospel or not?

How often we have heard that “whosoever” means everyone or as this young pastor has postulated “anyone means everyone.” But, is that true?  I would challenge you to do a study of the word translated “world” (κοσμος) in the New Testament Scriptures. You will find that it seldom if ever means everyone without exception.  The question the Jews of Jesus’ and John’s day were asking was not for how many people did Jesus die. The question was whether his work was for people of every nation or for the Jews only.  Were Gentiles to be admitted to the gospel assembly as Gentiles, or must they first be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses?  Did the Messiah come to save Israel and condemn the world (Gentiles)? It was to these question John was speaking when he wrote what we now know as John 3:16. In my view, it is just as wrong to say that “world” in that verse really means “the elect” as it is to say it means everyone without exception because that would also ignore the issue John/Jesus was addressing.

Please notice that words such as “whoever,” “whosoever,” “everyone,” and “anyone” are always accompanied by other words such as “believes,” “calls,” “wills or wishes” and are not used alone.  In John 3:16, John did not write “That whosoever (supposedly meaning everyone on the face of the planet) might not perish.” He  did not write “that everyone might not perish.” “Whosoever” does not mean “everyone.” He did not intend for us to understand that God gave his Son so that no one would perish. If he had intended that, he would have written that.  What he wrote literally was “in order that all the ones believing should not perish.” God gave his Son to infallibly secure the eternal redemption of everyone who believes on him whether he be a Jew or a Gentile. It was not his intent in this verse to identify those who believe as God’s chosen ones.  We must find that teaching in other verses, and it is easy to do so.

“Everyone who believes” does not equal everyone without exception. “Anyone who comes” does not mean everyone. It means anyone who comes.

As long as the “Evangelical church” continues to play fast and loose with biblical texts, it will continue to teach a watered down version of God’s gospel that is completely different from the message the biblical writers intended.


1 Response to “Understanding “Whosoever.””

  1. August 16, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Excellent post, my brother. I posted a bit on John 3:16 a few weeks back, covering some of what you did but not all – and some different stuff. http://defendingcontending.com/2015/07/26/what-does-john-316-teach/

    Blessings in Christ,

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